New England Patriots

Should Patriots pursue QB Baker Mayfield in NFL free agency?

Mayfield is able to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

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There are several different ways the New England Patriots could upgrade at quarterback this offseason.

The easiest path is taking a QB with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. There are three top-tier quarterback prospects in the 2024 class -- USC's Caleb Williams, UNC's Drake Maye and LSU's Jayden Daniels -- and one of them will be there when the Patriots are on the clock.

But what if the Patriots don't like any of those QBs enough to take one at No. 3? Dipping into the free agent market in March to sign a veteran is another option.

The quarterback market in free agency is expected to be pretty weak. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield are the clear-cut best players who could be available, and after them there's a noticeable drop-off in talent.

ESPN published a story last Friday asking some of their NFL insiders and experts to make predictions and answer key questions for the 2024 season. In the section titled "What is one move you want to see this offseason?", Jeremy Fowler mentioned the Patriots and Mayfield.

"The Patriots submarine the Buccaneers by signing QB Baker Mayfield," Fowler wrote. "While Tampa is the clear-cut favorite to re-sign Mayfield, now a coveted free agent after a banner year with the Bucs, anything can happen in free agency.

"And the Patriots' new brain trust -- including lead personnel man Eliot Wolf and personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith -- were part of the Cleveland regime that took Mayfield No. 1 in the 2018 draft. They believed in him. Yes, the Patriots can take a quarterback at No. 3 overall. But who's to say they wouldn't still need a veteran? Or, if they believe Mayfield is a long-term answer in this case, they could draft Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. or trade back for more capital."

This isn't a report from Fowler, and he notes that the Bucs remain the favorites to keep Mayfield, but he does bring up some interesting points about the Patriots. They do have plenty of former Cleveland Browns front office people who were with the AFC North franchise when Mayfield played there.

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After a few average seasons, Mayfield bounced back in a major way in 2023 -- his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He set career highs in completion percentage (64.3), passing yards (4,044) and touchdown passes (28). Mayfield has battled some injuries throughout his career, but durability was not an issue last season as he played in all 17 games. Mayfield helped lead the Bucs to the playoffs, where they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Wild Card Round before losing to the Detroit Lions in the Divisional Round.

What the Patriots need is a long-term solution at quarterback. Mayfield isn't old -- he'll be 29 in Week 1 -- but he's also never been an elite player. Would it make sense to spend over $100 million on Mayfield when the Patriots have so many other glaring holes on their roster? The short answer is no, especially when a draft pick such as Williams, Maye or Daniels would be on a cheap rookie contract for five years, which would allow the Patriots to surround them with better talent at the skill positions. Mayfield also is a little careless with the ball sometimes and has 74 interceptions in 89 career games.

The best path for the Patriots would be drafting a QB at No. 3, and then spending some of their salary cap space on a wide receiver such as Calvin Ridley or a top-tier offensive tackle instead of Mayfield.

Mayfield is a good quarterback and should have several productive seasons left in his career. Signing him wouldn't be an awful move by any means. But the Patriots cannot pass on an opportunity to take a potential franchise quarterback so early in the draft. These chances don't come around often.

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